Seether’s John Humphrey talks ‘Isolate and Medicate,’ Music, and Family

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It’s 12:30am. There’s a moth banging incessantly into the window. It’s winter but for some reason the curtains are open. Everything else is still. Silent. Twitter rolls past my eyes. A badly written and badly punctuated Seether interview takes Twitter’s place. The clock ticks over. 12:32am.

We spend a lot of our lives waiting; for trains, buses, cars, concerts to start, school buses to come and this job is no different in that respect. There is one difference though, one huge difference: I’m waiting for the phone beside me to ring. It’ll be John Humphrey, Seether’s drummer, calling. If you’d told me two years ago, six months ago, hell, three weeks ago, that John Humphrey would be calling me, I’d have laughed in your face. But he is.

The phone rings. Once, then twice, then three times.

12:35am.

All I can do is stare at it. For half a decade Seether have been the only constant in my life. A song for every time I’ve lost and every time I’ve won.

“Hello?” If you could choke on butterflies, I’d be doing it.

“Hey, is that Sebastian? It’s John here from Seether.”

Breathe.

Humphrey is calling from Italy. The band are on a European tour before they head back to the States in the fall and then head back again to Europe. It’s about 2:40pm. He’s half way through a string of interviews for the Australian press, despite it, he still sounds excited to be on the phone, to be be interviewed.

The Oklahoma native has a smile on lips and his accent has the typical Southern twang without eliciting a deluge of hill billy cracks and backwards Southerner jokes. He’s shocked it’s almost 1 am and that I’m half a world away, I’m still shocked he’s on the phone (What can I say? Unwavering professionalism).

“I’ve always said,” he begins once we’re past the timezone comparisons and my intense (and committed) fanboying, “this is the only business in the world where you pour your heart out and work your ass off to put something into the world for people to criticize in every way.”

He’s talking about album number six (not including reissues, which there’s one of for every album but Karma And Effect) Isolate And Medicate and the apprehension that comes with releasing a new record.

“It is hard at times and you always feel vulnerable, but for me, there’s more of an anticipation, an excitement and a nervousness that comes with it.” He’s growing more excited as he talks about the album. “Without sounding arrogant I want to say to people ‘hey, listen to this.’ I feel really strongly about it. I’m still excited by it.”

“We’re very passionate about what we do,” Humphrey continues, “it is our whole lives. We’re living there in the moment and not just going through the motions.”

Seether are a touring band, they’ve played over 5,000 shows in more than 10 years. When Humphrey speaks again the excitement has dissipated and he hesitates for a moment.

“Y’know, I’m a married man with kids and that’s hard at times because I’m gone seven to eight months of the year.”

The drummer that was excited by releasing a new album has become the father that misses his children and his wife.

“But I have the best family, they’re very supportive and my wife, we’ve been together since we were kids, we’re childhood sweethearts, she’s always known that music is the most important thing to me. She’s said, ‘go and do your thing and we’ll be here when you get back.’

“My son is 15 now and he’s playing the drums and you could say that music is in the DNA. He’s starting bands and it’s exciting to watch his passion grow… [but] there’s no lying, you miss birthdays and you miss school graduations and you do get homesick.”

His excitement now is all but a trace and there’s a long and pensive silence that comes from it. He needs his family, he says, they keep him balanced and without them he isn’t sure if he could handle life on the road.

Tentatively the conversation turns back to music and Humphrey perks up again.

“It’s a wonderful gift to have to be able to play great music. We’re really making something out of nothing, taking it out of thin air. The three of us have a chemistry that just works so well. We’ve been playing with each other for a long time.” He pauses for a moment. “Musically…” His laugh is vaguely familiar and is missed after talking about his family.

For Humphrey the emotion in the music they play comes from the music itself. ‘Crash’ and ‘Suffer It All’ are the two tracks on the album he finds most affecting. “[Suffer It All]…is one of the heaviest songs we’ve written [that and ‘Crash’] are two that really stand out for me. Musically they’re very different, they’re very passionate and we’re very fond of them.”

He’s a firm believer that Isolate And Medicate is the best album they’ve ever written and yet, to degrees, confides that he and the band still worry people won’t care. It’s off set, only just, by his well and truly earned confidence.

“That’s always in the back of our minds when we write music but we know, we’re confident, of what’s good for Seether and what’s good for us.”

His hopes for the new album are modest, but then again, so is he. “We hope it comes across that we’re getting better at our craft, at songwriting, arrangements, that we’re honing in on what we do best. I believe this is our best stuff to date.”

That last one’s a tall order – no Seether album has ever disappointed (clearly not biased…) – but it does bring up an interesting point: the amount of radio success Seether have had and their unholy alliance with Nickelback for the 2012 tour.

“We’re not trying to fit in a mould,” Humphrey says part dismissively of any insinuation to the contrary and part defensively, “or to be something we’re not. We’ve never been the cool, hip band and we’ve always felt that we were on our own in that respect. What you’re hearing is what comes out of Seether, that’s us.”

This could slip easily into the commercial, radio, sell out territory but we’re not even going to go there.

“We’re fortunate that it’s good for radio play, it fits into that commercial vein but it’s always about us.”

(Fact in point: The screams in ‘See You At The Bottom’)

There’s no denying that it’s been a long wait since the release of Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray and after 15 years state side and touring it’s clear that Seether haven’t lost an ounce of their passion, vulnerability or dedication.

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